By Jordan Kendall, Assistant Sports Editor
With the 2019 NFL season a few weeks away, football fans have a glimpse of optimism. After turning reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2014, the Baltimore Ravens aim to take advantage of a shifting AFC North division.. Before they kick off year two of the Lamar Jackson era, let’s look at what could be coming in Baltimore.
Run Lamar Run
Second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson is the focal point of the offense, and with the trade of quarterback Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos, makes this his team. In seven starts, Jackson threw for 1,201 yards and six touchdowns. However, Jackson isn’t known as a pass-first quarterback, he makes his impact on the ground. Last season, he had 695 rushing yards and five touchdowns and looks to have even more in 2019. Baltimore looks to revolutionize the NFL, and will potentially allow Jackson even more rushes.
“We’re probably doing iPhone 1 now. We have a whole new idea,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh in an interview with ESPN’s Jamison Hensley . “It’s not that there is anything new in there, concept-wise, that has never been done in football before. But the way we put it together, to me, is unique and different.”
Pieces Of The Puzzle
Baltimore added some weapons for Jackson in the off-season, including wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, who provide speed and playmaking to one of the worst receivers cores the past few seasons. Along with running backs Gus Edwards and former New Orleans running back Mark Ingram, the Ravens have talented pieces to work around Jackson. Tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews should be contributors in the red zone, Andrews was one of Jackson’s favorite targets last season. If the pieces gel together, there’s no telling what this offense is capable of.
“We’re so dynamic, and we’re able to do so many things, and we have so many pieces,” said Andrews to Hensley.”You’re going to have to pick your poison with us. Whatever you pick to stop us, we can hurt you with other things.”
It’s Still About The Defense
Baltimore is known for its defense and has had some of the greatest defenders of all time in linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, both of whom are Hall of Famers. While this generation of Ravens isn’t close to their level, they have some pieces that should lead to success. Defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams are one of the best duos up front, and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Marlon Humphrey have been solid together. Safety Earl Thomas comes over from the Seattle Seahawks, giving them even more talent to work with. Last season, Baltimore surrendered the second-fewest points per game with 17.9, only trailing the Chicago Bears. Losing linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Eric Weddle hurts, however, Thomas should fill Weddle’s void and linebackers Matthew Judon and Patrick Onwuasor showed enough potential to give Baltimore confidence going forward. This defense should be among the NFL’s best and has the potential to be great for years to come.
Special Teams Is Also Special
Special teams never gets the respect it deserves, but the Ravens have arguably the best unit in football. Kicker Justin Tucker went 35-39 on field goals last season and continued to prove why many consider him the best kicker in the NFL. Punter Sam Koch finished fourth in average yards per punt with 47.4, remaining among the best at his position for many years. Long snapper Morgan Cox has been the starter since 2010 and has made this trio of specialists one of the best for the past decade. If Baltimore needs a punt to pin their opponents inside the 20-yard line, or a game-winning 55-yard field goal, they can feel as confident as anyone it will happen.
Prediction For 2019 Season
The Ravens will be the fourth team since 1978 to alternate home and away games each week. Only five of their opponents made the playoffs last season, and playing teams such as the Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals who will likely miss the playoffs should be easy wins. While the Cleveland Browns have emerged as a contender for the division title, five of the last eight games for Baltimore are at home. With only two primetime games this season they won’t have the pressure of playing for a national audience often. Thanks to a favorable schedule, Baltimore has a strong chance to defend the AFC North crown and return to the postseason.